Climate change is causing wild bumblebees to disappear from large swaths of their historical range, which could spell disaster for pollinating crops in Europe and North America, new research suggests.
As global temperatures have risen, bumblebees have disappeared from the warmest regions they occupy, but have not spread northward to take advantage of new habitat, the study finds.
“They just aren’t colonizing new areas to track rapid, human-caused climate change,” study co-author Jeremy Kerr, a biologist at the University of Ottawa, said at a news conference.
Honeybees have made headlines in recent years because their numbers are plummeting in a mysterious process called colony collapse disorder. Scientists have proposed a range of contributing factors, from overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides that disorient the buzzing insects to the rise of bee parasites.
But bumblebees are the real superstars of the pollinating world. Unlike almost every other bee species, bumblebees are out in the fields, sipping nectar and pollinating plants from spring to late fall, said study co-author Laurence Packer, a biologist at York University in Toronto.
Most other bee species pollinate just a handful of plants. What’s more, bumblebees have unique moves, such as the ability to “buzz pollinate” tricky flowers like tomatoes, said study co-author Alana Pindar, a biologist at the University of Ottawa.
Bumblebees are of great economic importance, with studies putting their fruit and flower pollinating worth at $3 billion a year.